Book Review: Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut #3/28/2018

IMG_6390Since the beginning of the new year I’ve been going through a bit of a reading slump. For some reason nothing holds my attention anymore and I’m far more likely to waste hours pointlessly browsing Instagram than reading a book.

However, this past Saturday I was in Coles and passed by a book with a bright red cover and a familiar title; Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. It was out of place, as if someone had just left it there because they didn’t want it anymore, and the staff recommendation sticker was from a man named Tyler, which just so happens to by my middle name. So, I decided that fate had brought me to this book to get me out of the slump and luckily I was right.

Never in my life have I read such a poignant and profound commentary on the absolutely devastating and destructive nature of war. This book follows our protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, through his life experience as well as his war experience having fought in World War 2 and been at the bombing of Dresden. Billy is an eccentric character and spends much of the book passively accepting the events that happen to him (so it goes).

This book has a very dark humour and the writing style is one that I find to be quite engaging, but it’s not for everyone. It does deal quite a bit with time travel and aliens, which I interpreted to be the after effects and PTSD suffered by the main character, Billy Pilgrim. However, the book is filled with profound insights about human nature, war, life, and death itself.

Revealing its true nature slowly, we watch as Billy Pilgrim begins to exhibit more and more displays of insanity as a result of several traumatic events in his life. From being at the bombing of Dresden to being the sole survivor of a plane crash years later, Billy finds a way to cope by accepting a very passive manner and outlook on life.

Vonnegut continuously puts forth the idea that war is natural, unavoidable and impossible to prevent. In the scenes where Billy Pilgrim imagines that he was abducted by aliens called Tralfamadorians, he often encounters this idea. When Billy points out that the aliens have a peaceful planet and live without war, one responds:

“Today we do. On other days we have wars as horrible as any you’ve ever seen or read about. There isn’t anything we can do about them, so we simply don’t look at them. We ignore them. We spend eternity looking at pleasant moments” (Vonnegut, p. 150).

That being said, I’d argue that by continuously emphasizing the inevitability of war, Vonnegut is actually forcing the reader to consider that the opposite may, in fact, be true. War is not necessary. War is not the only answer. War is not natural.

I think Vonnegut makes this point by also including the following quote several times throughout the book: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom always to tell the difference.” He’s saying that if humans were wise, we could see that we can change our beliefs and opinions about war. It doesn’t have to be this way.

To really get the full picture you have to read this book. I cannot put into words, the way Vonnegut has, how profound his ideas and messages are. I really hope that if you can tolerate a little bit of a messy timeline and some brief alien interludes, that you pick up this book and give it a good read.


Book Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas #2/28/2018


Having won numerous awards and being voted Best Young Adult Fiction on Goodreads in 2017, I was hearing a lot of buzz about “The Hate U Give,” which is the debut novel by Angie Thomas. When I picked it up shortly after Christmas (thanks to all my family and friends who got me Indigo/Chapters gift cards) I didn’t know much about the book, other than that it was supposed to be really, really good! This should have been red flag number one, because any time my expectations are set too high, I’m always let down, but there were so many rave reviews that I put aside my doubt and decided to pick it up and give it a try. Also, I don’t typically enjoy young adult fiction so that should have been warning sign number two, but anyway here we are.

The book is set in an undisclosed (from what I can tell) town in America. It starts out with the main character, Starr Carter, a young black girl who straddles two very opposite lives – she resides in the underprivileged “projects” so-to-speak, but goes to school at a fancy private school and hides her more “black” identity from her white friends. One night she’s hanging out at a party when a fight breaks out. She has to leave quickly and gets away with an old friend she hasn’t seen in a while, named Khalil. Right off the bat Khalil and Starr are pulled over by a white cop and Khalil gets shot and killed.

Now, for some reason, none of this captivated me; especially because this happens within the first two short chapters, I wasn’t really shocked and hadn’t yet been able to identify with our main character, Starr, or empathize with her in any way. But perhaps, now that I consider it, this might be the entire point of the book; it shouldn’t matter if we can identify with someone or not, to decide whether the murder of an innocent black, or Indigenous person in Canada, is right or wrong. No matter our status in society, we should all care about justice and equality in cases such as this. Morals should not apply to a certain class or race. Within the book the author specifically tries to hit on several important themes in a very obvious manner but this wasn’t apparent to me until just now.

I didn’t finish the book. I only made it about halfway and even then I had to force myself because the entire book itself felt forced to me. Perhaps because it was written as a young adult novel and therefore had to be a little bit more censored, while simultaneously spelling out every theme and action that the main character was taking, I’m not sure, but it didn’t feel as real to me as it could have. Even The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill felt like a real, lived experience and that book was about slavery so there’s no way Lawrence Hill could have been there to witness it in person. However, with The Book of Negroes I could literally feel the emotion pouring through the page in that book, whereas with The Hate U Give, I couldn’t feel the connection.

One barrier that prevented me from connecting with the characters and the events that took place was the writing. In the same way that Room bothered me because it felt as though it was written by a six year old boy, The Hate U Give bothered me because it felt like it was written by a 16 year old girl. There were some absolutely cringeworthy lines, and I didn’t like how Thomas tried to write in the voice, accent and dialect of a young black teen and her family, because this effort felt flat and inconsistent to me. Also, it’s really hard to read and pay attention to what’s happening when you have to continuously go back and make sure you read that last passage properly.

There’s just some downright cheesy lines that made me cringe so hard I actually had to stop reading. One example is an exchange between Starr and her dad that goes something like this:

“Good.” He gets the grapes out of the refrigerator. “You still got that old laptop? The one you had before we bought you that expensive-ass fruit one?”

I laugh. “It’s an Apple MacBook, Daddy.”

“It damn sure wasn’t the price of an apple.”

It damn sure wasn’t the price of an apple? I don’t know about you but I don’t know anyone who talks like this, or who is the young father of a sixteen year old girl who doesn’t know what Apple is? That to me sounds like something someone from the 19th century would say as opposed to a young father raising 3 kids.

At the end of the day, this book just wasn’t my cup of tea. I can definitely see the importance of it, but would prefer a book where the themes weren’t so blatantly in your face, and where the pacing allowed for more character development and backstory. Unfortunately, I think this book has scared me off of reading Young Adult Fiction anytime soon. I’ll stick with my biographies, memoirs, historical fiction, classics and contemporary thank you very much.

Book Review: Recovery by Russell Brand #1/28/2018

First off, let me just say that it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything to my blog and I’m so sorry about that for those of you who are following. Life got so crazy for a while there but I’m back into a regular schedule now and my goal is to post a review for every book I read this year. So, without further ado, let us begin with my first review of 2018: Recovery: Freedom from our addictions by Russell Brand.


Based on the 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous program, Brand brings this otherwise inaccessible, and rather stereotypical, model for overcoming our addictions into a fresh and relatable light. One of the things I found most interesting about this book was how Russell “branded” (you see what I did there?) it to make it more accessible to anyone who has an addiction to anything; from chocolate, to social media, gambling, sex, alcohol or drugs, you can see from the cover that this book is probably for you.

I’m not usually a fan of the quote-unquote “self-help books” and tend to find them rather misleading in the sense that they might help you in the short term but your problems either come back, or they just spout common sense at you over and over again page after page. I have to say that this book took a refreshing departure from that tradition and I actually found myself quite enjoying what Brand had to say.

Some of his key insights were things that I had either never thought of before, or were phrased in such a way as to make me revel in them all over again. Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly if you’ve read any of Russell’s other books) Brand is quite a proficient writer and wordsmith. In fact, I actually had to look up over 40 new words while reading this book which, for a bibliophile like me, was absolutely amazing. Here’s a short excerpt that I hope will demonstrate the succinct yet poetic prose that pulls you ever so gently through the book:

What I used to think of as happiness was merely distraction from the pain. The pain of disconnection, of separateness from you. All longing, all yearning, all thirst, flung on unworthy surrogates, false idols, unsated by unworthy objects still pulling us unwillingly back together.

One of the main themes throughout the book is how addictive behaviour is used to mask some sort of pain that one is going through and can’t seem to face alone.

Now to get on to the reason why in particular picked up this book as my first read of 2018 is not only because of my admiration of Russell Brand as a comedian and a human being, but because I too have struggled with an addiction and self-destructive behaviour throughout my life. Physically it manifested as an addiction to sugar, but psychologically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally there were some deeper issues there that I’ve had to learn how to overcome, and can say with some certainty that this book has definitely helped me make a positive change in my life.

One of the only issues I had with the book was that there were some steps in the 12 step program that seemed to be a bit too much for someone with a “less complex” addiction to say sugar or shopping like myself. For example, having to make an extensive inventory of all of the harm I’ve done other people and then apologize to them seems a bit silly for a sugar addiction and I was left wondering if Russell’s belief was that all twelve steps should be done no matter what addiction you display.

Either way this is a book that I feel everyone could benefit from reading because whether you think you have an addiction that has negatively impacted your life or not, there are some real solid ideas and practices you can pick up from this book if you simply want to change the way you experience the world.

The point of undertaking this program, of picking up this book, is to change the way it feels to be in your own head because on some level you don’t like it in there. It is making you unhappy. You think thoughts and feel feelings that are unpleasant to experience. – Brand, pg. 192

Let me know if you’ve read this book and what you thought? And as always, happy reading friends 🙂

Book Review: 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

13 Reasons Why NOT

I recently read 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher at the recommendation of someone at my local bookstore. Without giving too much away I can tell you that the book is about a girl who commits suicide and leaves behind cassette tapes with the 13 reasons why she killed herself, on them. Needless to say I was less than impressed and here are the 13 reasons why.

  1. Anonymous: The book jumps right in and immediately starts off the first chapter with the tapes. As a reader, I had zero connection with Hannah at this point, and I literally felt no sympathy for her at all. Without the character development that would have been useful if there were at least 2-3 chapters about her before she killed herself, I simply could not relate to her and the trivial events that led to her suicide. This book would have been 10x better if the author had allowed us to get to know Hannah better before she died, so we would have an investment in her, and what happens to her. With her already being gone at the beginning, it’s almost makes it harder to care about her because I already knew her fate.
  2. Annoying: The format of the book was confusing and difficult to read. Hannah’s voice on the tapes are written in italics, while the main character, Clay’s thoughts are interspersed in regular font. Sometimes I wouldn’t notice that the font changed between italic and regular and would confuse Hannah’s voice with Clay’s. This made it super annoying because I would have to keep going back to re-read what I just read!
  3. Antagonizing: Hannah’s tapes come of sounding more like she killed herself out of anger, than depression, just to get revenge on the people she was mad at and to make them feel bad after she died. It just seemed like it was too orchestrated and planned out, rather than a last minute resort to escape the pain.
  4. Unrealistic: Hannah’s reasons for committing suicide just don’t seem realistic, and almost makes light of the very real events that lead to a person choosing to end their own life. I grew up on the reserve, and we have a higher rate of suicide than the rest of Canada. There are 12, 13, and 14 year olds choosing to end their life in my community, and people even younger than that, like 6 and 7 year olds committing suicide in Indigenous communities up north. Suicide is not something I take lightly, and reading about the trivial events that lead to Hannah’s suicide made me feel like the author was presenting suicide as a viable option when regular teenage experiences start to happen to you.
  5. Ripple effect: I just found it so dumb and hated the idea that someone who took their own life would decide to try to cause other people the same pain and suffering that they went through. With the tapes Hannah leaves behind, it could potentially cause a ripple effect and cause other characters in the book to commit suicide as well. If I knew I was one of the reasons someone decided to kill themselves, I would feel so bad I’d probably think about killing myself too. Hannah could have inspired a chain reaction of suicides in her town, and myself, having lived on the reserve and witnessed first-hand the effects of suicide in my community, can safely say that if one of our young people killed themselves and left tapes like this, the consequences would be much more public and far-reaching.
  6. Sexualizing: There were so many parts where this book made me cringe harder than I ever have before, due to the blatant sexualization of Hannah, by the main character Clay, who’s supposed to be the only stand-up good guy in her school. I thought this was doing more damage because it made me dislike not only Hannah, but Clay’s character as well. Here’s an example of one such occasion on page 40 of my copy. Hannah’s voice on the tapes says, “Truth is, Jessica Davis is so much prettier than I am. Write up a list of every body part and you’ll have a row of checkmarks the whole way down for each time her body beats mine.” and then Clay thinks, “I disagree, Hannah. All the way down.” I mean, EW! Gross, even the way Clay thinks is creepy.
  7. Glamorizing: This book 100% makes suicide look like something you can do if you want to become immortalized. On page 97 Clay admits that he shouldn’t be listening to these morbid, exploitive, tapes, but he justifies his actions by saying he’s living out Hannah’s last requests. She did this to be remembered and become immortalized. These are not the final actions of someone who can’t bear to live any longer. They’re revenge, and the suicide was used as a tool to get attention.
  8. Incriminating: It’s clear that Hannah has a personal vendetta against all the people she names on the tapes and uses them to make a diatribe against everyone. Her tone is consistently sarcastic and immature at best and it almost comes across as though she wants someone to release the tapes because it would literally implicate everyone listed on them. Suicide is a very serious subject and is not taken lightly in a court of law. Those who are involved could face serious criminal charges, and I feel like Hannah knew this and made the tapes, then kill herself just to get revenge, which undermines the real suffering that suicide victims go through. Here are but a few examples of Hannah’s sarcastic tone:
    1. p. 93, Referring to Courtney Crimsen: “You’re definitely one of the most popular girls in school. And you…are…just…so…sweet. Right? Wrong.
    2. p. 120, “Do you remember those career surveys we had to fill out freshman year, the ones that were supposed to help us choose electives? According to my survey, I’d make a wonderful lumberjack. And if that career didn’t workout, I could use my fallback career as an astronaut. An astronaut or a lumberjack? Seriously? Thanks for the help.
    3. p. 182, “‘Expose yourself,’ they said. ‘Let us see your deepest and darkest.’ My deepest and darkest? What are you, my gynaecologist?’ Hannah.”
  9. Convenient: The book is written in the most annoyingly convenient and blatantly obvious way! Every new location that Hannah mentions in her tapes, Clay just happens to be around the corner from. Example, page 62 “I’ve only been to Monet’s a few times but I think it’s on the street the bus is going down now.” and on page 101, “D-4. It’s only a handful of blocks from Tyler’s house.” Like make it a little more difficult or just don’t even try and pretend. So pointless.
  10. The writing: Let’s face it, the writing itself is just horrible and so awkward. Some examples, “More girls have dumped him out of car envy than my lips have ever kissed.” *cringe* or “Maybe I’ll get lucky! Maybe there will be a sign posted in his yard. PEEPING TOM — COME INSIDE. I can’t stifle a laugh at my own lame joke.” *lame indeed Clay* or “If you ever caught me reading one of those teen magazines, I swear; it wasn’t for the makeup tips. It was for the surveys. Because you never wore makeup, Hannah. You didn’t need it.” *bleh*
  11. Characters: Is there supposed to be a likeable character in this book, or any character AT ALL?! Every person is either so bland that they have no interesting traits, or they killed themselves or made someone else kill them-self. It’s all just a bunch of trivial jerks (including Hannah) who are given little to no background story at all.
  12. Message: In the Q&A section at the end of my book, the author said that the message he wanted to send with this book is that people should be nice to each other because you never know what’s going on with another person. I don’t think this message came across clearly enough, and it could have been made more clear that this is the message. Most of the characters in the book, other than Clay, don’t even seem remorseful one bit about what happened to Hannah, and it just made me sad for the human race.
  13. Thirteen Reasons: It seems like the author, who is indeed an older male writing about the high school experiences of a female teenager, just didn’t quite grasp the things that would lead someone to killing themselves. I’ve taken quite a few suicide intervention trainings (ASIST 3 times, and SAFETALK 2 times) and have had to use this training twice to help a friend who was having thoughts of suicide. I’m not saying that what Hannah went through doesn’t happen. I’m sure it does, just that it wasn’t enough for me to believe that someone would want to kill themselves afterward. For these 13 reasons, I did not like this book, but I can see how it has opened up a conversation about suicide that wasn’t happening before so there are some benefits to it. This book just wasn’t for me.

Note: I did start watching the Netflix original series of 13 Reasons Why and it is a huge improvement on the book. It actually does some character development and I can see why people like the show.

Book Review: Vicious by V.E. Schwab

I finished this book in 3 days, not because I’m a super fast reader, but because I literally could not put it down! This hasn’t happened to me in a long time… but there’s really nothing I disliked about this book.

Reading on the GO Train on the way to a concert
 Something about the structure of the book kept me addicted. The format used flashbacks throughout to develop characters and give background on what was happening in the present.

The basic plot involves two friends making a startling and disturbing discovery while doing research for a college paper. The effects of this new knowledge tears them apart and one of them spends years in jail planning his revenge.

Eli and Victor are the two best friends, turned enemies, after a literal matter of life and death destroys their friendship. While Eli has a god-complex, Victor is very logical and scientific, but both make decisions based on their emotions and hatred of each other. During his time in jail, Victor picks up a friend named Mitch, and these two come across an unfortunate young girl named Sydney. Meanwhile, Eli gets a sidekick of his own, who just happens to be Sydney’s older sister.

The essential themes throughout this book are good versus evil, or, depending on who you ask, evil versus evil. I found it to be very interesting how Schwab wove in these themes without making them seem obvious or forced in any way.

One question I asked myself continuously throughout the reading was how interesting it is that we can justify our actions as being morally “right” when the opposite side feels the exact same way about their position. It lead me to realize that there are two sides to every story, and sometimes there is not necessarily one right answer and one wrong answer (unless you’re Donald Trump, in which case, everything you do and say is the wrong answer).

“Plenty of humans were monstrous, and plenty of monsters knew how to play at being human.” – Schwab exposes the dichotomous nature of human beings.

There were a lot of parallels between this book and what’s happening in the real world. For example, how misguided ideologies can lead people to believe or justify their actions, even when they’re bad. It seems all too familiar with what’s happening in both the United States, and abroad.

Another parallel can be drawn between the influential power that Serena, Eli’s sidekick, holds over people and how society is being brainwashed by misinformation. Serena can literally compel people to do what she says. When this much power is held in the wrong hands, the consequences can be fatal.

Overall, this was a perfect book! I cannot wait for the sequel and look forward to reading A Darker Shade of Magic and Our Dark Duet. V.E. Schwab is my favourite contemporary author!


A visit to the new Ancaster Indigo & mini book haul

What better thing is there to do on a lazy, rainy, Sunday afternoon than visit your newly renovated local bookstore? Evidently  nothing, because that is exactly what everyone decided to do today! 

My brother Ryan standing outside of Indigo in Ancaster

If you didn’t know, the Chapters in Ancaster recently underwent a renovation and became an Indigo. So it’s still the same chain, just under a different name and completely different look. 

The first sight you see upon entering the new Indigo

I brought my brother to check out the new store with me, but we ran into quite a few people we know. Apparently great minds really do think alike because not only did my brother run into his friend Adriano, I also ran into my friend and fellow book lover, Sara. (PS – Sara is also an amazing blogger and writer. If you want to check out her website click here).

Inside the renovated Indigo

As I explored the discounted YA fiction, I heard a quiet but familiar voice almost whisper, “Chelsey?” I turned and to my pleasant surprise, there was Sara and her family out celebrating Father’s Day. 

Sara and I in front of the Game of Thrones Fantasy section 🙂

Needless to say, we immediately started talking about the new store and all the books we want to read over the next 10,000 years that it would take to read them. 

Then I ran into my favourite Ancaster Indigo employee, Will. We’ve probably been bookstore friends for over a year now because every time I go I see him and we start chatting. He always has great recommendations and when I showed him that I was getting one of the books he suggested today, we high-fived in the middle of the fiction section. 

I ended up getting three books, although I probably would have gotten more if I spent more time there, but I’m super happy about these picks. 

Victoria Schwab, or V.E. Schwab, is quickly becoming one of my favourite writers. I’m currently reading Vicious but decided to pick up A Darker Shade of Magic today. 

I also ended up getting a Heather’s Pick, because you can’t go wrong with those, and this one is called Everybody’s Son. 

Lastly, I got a book that Will recommended to me, and I wasn’t sure about it because there’s been some controversy, but I decided to see what it’s all about for myself  and grabbed 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher. 

Overall, it was a fabulous day, filled with wonderful surprises and great friends. I feel refreshed and ready to keep reading. I loved to see how books can bring people together so today was very special and I’m grateful for it all. Until next time, keep reading.